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I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman

March 7, 2019


“If he’s comfortable living on the near edge of nonsense, why shouldn’t we be?” This is James Parker in his New York Times review of I Wear the Black Hat, Klosterman’s 2013 book of musings on villainry. He says it’s Klosterman’s fifth best book. This was only the second I’ve read of his, on the heels of But What If We’re Wrong? And then after this, I went right into his Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. So I guess on the scale of “Never want to read another book by this author” to “Give me more, now,” I’d give this a 5.

But I was trying to figure out how to sum up this book, and I couldn’t do much better than the subtitle itself. It’s about villains, ostensibly. But it kind of meanders all over the place, which it’s fair to say is a key part of Klosterman’s style. Over-intellectualizing things that aren’t generally intellectual, seeking consequence in the generally inconsequential, and making random connections that are intriguing, if often tenuous. Which all may sound like a knock, but I read more after this one.

This book is a puree of pop culture, autobiography, history and something resembling philosophy. Not quite random enough to make one’s head spin, but you might often stop and ask, “Wait, what point are you making?”

In a book about villains, there are some subjects one might expect—what if Batman was real? How should we think about Hitler? Joe Paterno and N.W.A. make appearances—as coach turned villain, and rap group who craved villain status, respectively. Bruce Springsteen, Ted Nugent, Taylor Swift, 2 Live Crew. DB Cooper vs Muhammad Atta.

So what’s the point? Don’t really know. Don’t really care. There are enough provocative thoughts and funny lines to be candy for the nerdy, semi-pop-culture-literate person of my generation. And plus, this book includes this sentence: “I saw the Big Lebowski and decided the main character should become the model for all human thought.” Which is as right as right can be.

Image result for the big lebowski

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